Daily Archives: September 26, 2011

My Surgical Experience – Part One

It’s hard to believe that it’s been two weeks since my surgery. It seems like yesterday, it seems like months ago. But I guess I am finally ready to put pen to paper (ok, fingers to the keyboard) to recap the whole experience.

We woke up that morning at 4.45 am. The KoD had set up the coffeemaker the night before so that he could imbibe. Bless that man for not lording it over me that he got to have coffee and I didn’t. He was even a little apologetic about it! I was allowed nothing to eat or drink since midnight, except for a sip of water with which to take my painkillers. By 5.15 we were on the road, ready for surgery – or as ready as I would ever be. I wasn’t nervous – I was just looking forward to the left side of my body actually working as it should.

We had confidence in Dr McCormick – he told us he does 100 such surgeries every year. We had researched this surgery online, and our research coupled together with what we had been told by Dr McC and his nurse practitioner Mary put us very much at our ease. We knew what to expect.

We got to the hospital at 5.45 am, and made use of the valet parking. We took the elevator to the surgical check in floor and checked in, filled out paperwork, signed a whole bunch of papers, got a very nice identity bracelet, and sat down to wait to be called. My surgery was scheduled for 7.30 am and I was due to be in recovery by 9.30 am. A relatively short surgery. I was convinced that I would be awake and lucid by lunchtime. I knew friends wanted to stop by – I had given them the KoD’s digits so they could check in with him when I was up for a visit.

At around 6.30 am we were called, and taken to the pre-op area to get ready for surgery. We met with the nurse. The anesthetist came by and explained the whole putting me to sleep procedure. The doctor came by, the resident doctor came by (am I old, or are the student doctors just extremely young these days??)– I was a popular girl that morning. The guy in the cubicle to the left of me was having a cyst removed from his brain, and the woman in the cubicle to the right of me was having major back surgery. I felt blessed that my surgery was relatively “minor”.

At 7.15 the OR team came to get me and I walked two minutes to the OR, saying a quick goodbye to the KoD who was going to go wait in the surgical waiting area. I was so sure I was going to see him within a couple of hours.

I lay down on the gurney in the bright OR, and was chit chatting with the nurses. I remember telling them about the boys, and their ages. They explained they were going to put an IV in, and we carried on talking. That’s all I remember until about 6 pm….

How a pain in the neck led to surgery

I woke up one Wednesday morning with a crick in my neck. Or so it felt. I popped a couple of Advil, took a hot shower, and moved on with my day hoping it would pass. By Thursday my neck was a whole mess of pain and I knew I needed to see the doctor, that it wasn’t just a “slept weirdly” kind of a deal. I had a headache too, a nasty one.

The doc examined me, gave me a prescription for muscle relaxants, naproxen (NSAIDs) and narcotics and did some bloodwork. Lyme disease was mentioned, along with meningitis and encephalitis. Charming. But, you must cover all the bases.

It didn’t get better and thankfully the blood tests were all negative for yucky stuff. When I went back to the doctor complaining of muscle weakness on my left side that was getting worse, along with the terrible neck and head pain, I got sent for an MRI of my head. The head part was fine – I did have a brain after all! The MRI showed *something* on my neck, and I went back the next day (Day #8 of this saga) for an MRI specifically of my neck. This MRI showed a massive herniation of the disk between C3 and C4. We knew this was something that needed to be taken care of ASAP.

I didn’t want just any doctor fixing me up, I wanted the best. Being close to NYC we knew that’s where we would go for expert opinions about what needed to be done. But how do you find the best doctor? It’s not like they advertise in Best Doctors R Us or something.

I have a friend on Twitter who is a doctor – a specialist in his field. He and his wife are awesome people and we have really established a connection even though we have never met in real life. I sent him my MRI report so he could read through it and explain the complicated verbiage to me in layman’s terms. I wanted his opinion as to where we should go from here. His was not the only opinion we were seeking, but we needed to come up with some kind of plan of action. He broke the news to me gently that this type of issue would probably need a surgical fix. He reassured me that this surgery is performed often.

He asked a neurosurgeon colleague of his in the state where he practices for a recommendation for a top NYC neurosurgeon. As soon as we got the information we set about making an appointment to see the recommended doc. We had to put together a file and fax it through – including a history of the symptoms, personal information and the MRI report. The doc would then read through it and decide if we need to be seen by him or not. It took a while till they called back, but we got an appointment.

We wanted to have two opinions. Surgery is no laughing matter. Many people at this point had suggested chiropractic relief – that kind of manipulation could have paralyzed me. My spinal cord was being compressed – you don’t play around with that! But I did appreciate that these suggestions were given with love.

We called a local organization who help people who need medical care for their recommendation for a neurosurgeon in the city. We made an appointment with him too – again, sending in a long detailed fax with questionnaires filled out etc. It almost seems like one has to audition for the doctors – pick me pick me, my case is perfect for you!!

It just so happened that we were able to get both appointments on the same day, enabling us to have to shlepp into the city only once for consultations.

The first appointment was the recommendation of the local organization, an agreeable personable chap, who wanted to hold off on surgery, try steroids for a week or two, but he admitted I was probably looking at surgery down the road. He did NOT examine me, just my MRI films. How can you not examine a patient?

The second neurosurgeon (thru Twitter doc) gave me a thorough exam after examining the MRI and found my reflexes to be abnormal on my left side. He made me do the walk they make drunks do – one foot in front of the other. I couldn’t manage it. He examined me and asked a ton of questions and answered all of ours. He did not like what he was seeing at all. He wanted me to start taking steroids anyway, but said surgery – Anterior Cervical Discectomy with Fusion – was unavoidable. The longer we would have left it the more risk there was of permanent damage. I was already having trouble walking and using my left arm was becoming a real challenge. To say nothing of the pain and the numbness! This neurosurgeon – Dr McCormick – also a personable guy, really told it to us straight. There were no guarantees that I wouldn’t wake up next week pain free, and no guarantees that surgery would fix the problem 100% – but we had to weigh up the possibility of permanent damage if we did nothing. He left the decision up to us.

We went to see his nurse practitioner – Mary – who I adore. Seriously. Such a professional – and so caring. She checked Dr McC’s calendar and said he could fit me in on Monday. As in 5 days from then. But she would need an answer from us by 9 am Thursday morning. If we were going to go ahead with surgery then, I would need to have pre-surgical testing done on Thursday so that they had the results before surgery. The next opening in his calendar was a couple of weeks down the road and then we would be running in to the Jewish Holidays. I wanted to sign there and then – cut me open, let’s do this.

KoD, bless him, was the voice of reason. Let’s take time, he said, to make sure this is the right decision before we just jump into it. We had two doctor’s opinions that were different – let’s just make sure. He was right, but I was thinking, it’s my neck on the line here (haha). It’s totally my decision. But surgery, especially on the mama, affects the whole family – and we did need to think it through.

We came home after our exhausting day and I went to bed to zone out. I knew what my decision was, but I knew I needed the KoD on board. I knew he needed to consult with a few medical people that he knows – and if they recommended I go ahead with surgery, I knew he would be ok with it. Dr McC has a stellar reputation which helped immensely too. He knows his stuff and has performed this surgery hundreds of times.

So the KoD made tons of phone calls. I spoke it all over with my non-medical advisors – my brothers and sister in law. We were all of the opinion that if it’s going to come to surgery anyway, waiting doesn’t make sense especially as I was getting worse each and every day. KoD came to the same conclusion.

The next day we called Mary on our way in to the city to tell her I would take the Monday spot, and that we were coming in for the testing.

We did the testing in record time and I was pronounced fit for surgery.